Elleni Sclavenitis

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On I/You/Je/Tu

"Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places." –Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

I/You/Je/Tu examines the ideology of the naturalization process and the cultural construction of identity. In this piece, I focus on my husband David and his ambivalence towards becoming an American citizen, and on the sense of loss that comes from this transition that he both rejects and embraces. I'm interested in the conflict of identity and unity that is inherent to the concept of nationality. In exile, integration and displacement are simultaneous, and identities become scrambled. The recent riots in France are the historical undercurrent through which these issues are explored in the film.

In I/You/Je/Tu, I interview David in English, his second language after French. First, he speaks about growing up in a cité (state-funded housing projects) in the suburbs west of Paris. Then he describes the distancing effect of experiencing the 2005 French uprising while living in Los Angeles, as well as his memories of the 1992 Los Angeles uprising, which he only experienced via the images and reports on television in France at the time. Here the duality of subjectivities becomes a paradigm by which one place is being considered from another. In another interview, he discusses his ambivalence with the process of becoming an American citizen, which speaks to a simultaneous desire for reconciliation while holding on to difference. Again, duality comes into play as these contradictions point to the conflict between difference and unity in the naturalization process. In addition to the interviews, I show footage of the citizenship ceremony and David voting for the first time in the US: in each of these instances of active citizenship I am examining the relationship of the individual to the state.

Through immigration and cultural hybridity a new, invisible country is created, where the borders are in flux, often unclear and evaporating. But what does this mean in terms of identity? Naturalization brings protection, privileges and inclusion, yet naturalization is a totalizing transformation that in theory requires erasure of identity through the rejection of past affiliations and even beliefs. This ideology of nationality is an imperial one that asserts the hegemony of one country over another. Is universal unity possible without violating cultural differences?  Can citizenship be distinguished from the ideology of nationality? Nationality is a given until it is taken away, given up or sought. In examining the naturalization process, I hope to reveal how this transformation is a brutal one that echoes imperialism.

I/You/Je/Tu is an investigation into the location of belonging and the cost of assimilation, leading to the question: What defines our notions of homeland?